Content: CSA. References to suicide and self harm.
I danced in the morning when the world was begun,
And I danced in the moon and the stars and the sun,
At school, during the Spring term, I would stand in a sea of bottle green tunics and grey pullovers. With my red hymn book in hand I would sing with gusto, in time with the pounding keys of the out of tune piano. I sang with all my might:
I danced on a Friday when the sky turned black;
It’s hard to dance with the devil on your back
The words swirled in my head and they intrigued me. It was a hymn full of contrasts – heaven and earth, night and day, birth and death – words that signified vitality and life but with a darkness at the periphery and this was a concept I recognised. I was eight years old and the sky was already turning black. I had a Devil on my back. It was abuse and it was weighing heavily upon my soul.
I danced for the fishermen, for James and John;
They came with me and the dance went on
Everyone else could only seem to see the dance. They saw the the façade, the big house. The smart uniform. The crisp suits and charming persona. The Devil was invisible to everyone except me, so I had no choice but to pretend it wasn’t there, which wasn’t easy. When he kissed me in greeting, or told me he loved me, I felt the creep of Devil fingers on my back, but I had no choice. I kept on with the dance.
I danced on a Friday when the sky turned black
It’s hard to dance with the world on your back
And that was where this Devil stayed. The weight of the world sat on my back. Years later, when the abuse had stopped, the weight of trauma remained but no one could see it. They just saw a woman who had stopped dancing.
The holy people said it was a shame.
They whipped and they stripped and they hung me on high,
And they left me there on a cross to die:
The Devil is heavy.
He weighs you down. Foul breath assaults your senses and fires memories you thought you’d buried. He cheerfully hands you the spade to dig them up again.
When you made a cup of tea, or put your children to bed, he pinched your shoulder and put his evil hands over your eyes, and you viewed the world through the gaps in the bony fingers and everything became tainted with shadow and truth.
He whispered dark thoughts in your ears. He reminded you that your happiness wasn’t real and that it would disappear soon enough.
He told you that you shouldn’t really be here at all, that you should have died. Cut deeper. Swallowed more pills. You didn’t even have the courage to jump, he said. Cowardly. So stupid. You can’t even kill yourself right.
They buried my body and they thought I’d gone;
But I am the dance, and I still go on
This Devil on your back flicks his forked tail and his knees presses against your sides making your body memories fire. The unbearable ones. The unwelcome reminder of that touch and what it felt like, and where, and your body reacts like it did again. You’re ready to fight, to run, but you don’t, you freeze, like you did back then and when the memories pass you climb up the stairs, slowly and carefully like an old woman, crawl under the duvet and close your eyes. The Devil stays with you of course. If you’re lucky, the Devil will sleep when you do. You pray that he won’t enter your dreams instead.
They cut me down and I leapt up high;
I am the life that’ll never, never die.
I’ll live in you if you’ll live in me:
I am the Lord of the dance, said he.
Processing trauma is going to war on the Devil who sits on my back. It’s a battle that is ongoing and I hope it will end one day but if not then I will keep on processing. I’m used to it now, it has got easier. My Devil is a lot smaller than it was. Sometimes I can hardly feel it at all. Occasionally it leaves me alone for a few days but when it returns, I continue processing. If I need to, I reach out for help. It’s ok for this to not be ‘over’. It’s normal. The Devil was a parasite that thrived on my silence for 40 years. It grew strong, inveigling its way into my heart and soul. It is now getting weaker. It is slowly dying and I’m learning how to dance for me, not for everyone else.
Dance, then, wherever you may be,
I am the Lord of the dance, said he,
And I’ll lead you all, wherever you may be,
And I’ll lead you all in the dance, said he.
Lord of The Dance – Sydney Carter 1963